With the current turmoil at The Emirates Arsenal fans could be forgiven for forgetting that the start of the Champions League Group stage is just around the corner but with more pressing issues at hand, particularly in the Premier League where the Gunners have picked up just one point from their first three league games, including the humiliating 8-2 defeat at the hands of Manchester United Arsenal’s season could be over before it’s even begun and last week’s Champions League draw wasn’t overly kind to the North London club either.
Drawn in Group F with Olympic Marseille of France, Greek Champions, Olympiakos and German champions, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal find themselves in one of the toughest groups and given the side’s current situation it could be an uphill struggle for Arsenal to progress beyond the group stage.
With the opening matches due to be played in two weeks time, Arsenal will be hoping that their troubled start to the season can come to a halt in time for the opener away to Dortmund on Tuesday 13th September.
With the future of Arsene Wenger being put under the media microscope, the pressure is on for the club, who have not won a trophy since 2005 to have a successful season. They have lost two of its most important players, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri and the performance at Old Trafford was nothign short of embarrassing, so much so, the club acknowledge this by refunding the fans who had made the trip to Manchester to witness the club’s biggest defeat in the Premier League era.
A weakened squad means a weakened attitude and although the players rallied last week to stop a near exit from the tournament against Udinese, they will need more than that to get the better of any of their Group F rivals.
Marseille finished second behind big spending Lille in the French top flight last season but they have been champions nine times previously. They are also the only French team to have won the Champions League, back in 1993. They are a very good team at home and with the hugely experienced Didier Deschamps at the helm, it is obvious that they will be threat to all teams in the group.
Dortmund are also previous Champions League winners, back in 1997 against Juventus with a team that included the now Norwich City manager, Paul Lambert. Those were the halcyon days of football in Dortmund but the good times appear to be returning under boss Jurgen Klopp who guided them to their seventh Bundesliga title last season winning it by a comfortable seven points, concededing juts 22 goals in 34 matches played, a stat which confirms them as a very hard team to break down and a force to be reckoned with.
They have redeveloped their stadium which can now hold over 80,000 spectators and surprisingly they have the highest average home attendance of any football club in Europe with over 77,000 turning up for each game and home advantage is a big plus for the team and will be a daunting start to the competition for Arsene Wenger’s men on match day one.
Champions of Greece, Olympiakos will come into the Champions League undaunted despite the fact that they are the least favoured of the four teams to progress from the Group F.
Like Dortmund they are a very hard team to beat at home which could prove costly to Arsenal should they not win when they visit them in the autumn. The Greek team have made the last 16 twice in the Champions League in recent seasons and have a best place finish of a quarter final achieved in 1998/9.
Unlike Arsenal, Olympiakos qualified automatically for the Group stages after winning the Greece Super League last season by a margin of 13 points.
Bookmakers have installed Arsenal as the 5/4 favourites to win the Group but there will be plenty of punters who enjoy football betting that will be happy to oppose the Gunners give the team’s current plight and performances. Dortmund at 2/1 and Marseille 11/2 will both give Arsenal plenty to think about while Olympiakos is the 25/1 outsider of the quartet.
Arsenal are 25/1 with Stan James to win the competition that they have yet to win with an appearance in the final in 2006 the nearest they come to winning. In the last couple of years they’ve fallen victim to Barcelona in the knockout stages and once again it looks like there could be a few teams better than them in the competition and as it stands for the Gunners, progression to the last 16 would have to be considered an achievement and the biggest worry is whether this will be their last season in the competition for some time with a Premier League top four finish far from assured.